Reality: A Little Less Funny Concept


            The other night my wife asked me to hand her a bottle of water. I reached for it and said, “When I blow a dollar on a bottle of water …”

            And then I stopped. I’d just learned of the death of Robin Williams, and that’s a line stolen from him. (It ends with, “I buy Perrier.”)

            “Reality … what a concept.”

            Celebrities are people, no matter how much we’re tempted to think otherwise. They often abuse their bodies with everything from drugs and booze to working too-long hours, all of which can make that dying thing come even sooner.

            “Cocaine is God’s way of saying you’re making too much money.”

            Lauren Bacall, a truly legendary actress, died the day after Williams. It’s not the first time the passing of one legend was overshadowed by the passing of another, partially because the height of Bacall’s career came much earlier. We can remember the first time we saw Robin Williams. For me, and many old enough to have been watching, it was a guest appearance on “Happy Days”, playing a very strange alien named Mork.

            “Never fight with an ugly person. They’ve got nothing to lose.”

            He was off and running.

            I last saw Robin Williams in one of the best new sitcoms of last year, “The Crazy Ones”. He was in the groove, and more surprisingly the rest of the cast kept up with him. It was the funniest new show I watched in 2013, but it went up against another good series, “The Michael J. Fox Show”, and they canceled each other out.

            “The Crazy Ones” had the questionable honor of being the highest rated canceled show of the season.

            “Ah, yes, divorce … from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet.”

            I’m sure all his fans knew Robin had been treated for addictions, and it’s the entertainment community—you can’t swing a sack of pill bottles without hitting someone in treatment. The job seems to attract addictive personalities. Also, there’s a lot of “hurry up and wait” to Hollywood jobs, and idle hands are indeed the Devil’s workshop. Maybe there’d be fewer addicts if they took more time to read books.

            “Death is nature’s way of saying, ‘your table is ready’.”

            On the other hand, I’m not sure how many people realized just how much Robin Williams struggled with depression.

            I knew. It’s possible that’s why his death hit me so hard.

            I’m not one to idolize celebrities. They’re often very good at one or two things, and terrible at just about everything else. They live in a tiny, insulated community, and often have little idea of what real life is about, sometimes not even after it rears up and smacks them in the face. I appreciate their talent, but hero worship for flawed people doing something that usually doesn’t matter in the scheme of things seemed foolish.

            “In America, they really do mythologize people when they die.”

            Still, I stand in awe of people who can stand up and do rapid-fire entertainment without a net—which in this case means without a script or teleprompter. These days, I also stand in awe of people who have energy. Robin Williams had energy and talent by the bushel, and he also had heart. By all accounts he was a genuinely nice guy, on or off the set, and by all accounts he cared. He organized and hosted relief projects, entertained the troops, and stood ready to help friends and strangers alike.

            As for the funny, he never seemed to turn it off.

            And that’s why I knew about his depression. To me it was obvious: One of the things depressed people are particularly good at is hiding their depression. Society teaches us that depression is “all in your head”, and that all you need to do is buck up and fight it off. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t seem real. You’re not bleeding, your bones aren’t broken, your hair isn’t falling out … it couldn’t be that bad.

            I also fancy myself to be a creative person, more or less, although I share with most people a mortal fear of public speaking. In other words, I envied him and felt for him at the same time. I could tell there were demons back there.

            “Comedy is acting out optimism.”

            I fight off my demons with the help of anti-depression techniques, the love of family, the creative process, and—from October through March, when it’s worst—a little happy pill. It never goes away, so you have to control it … or it controls you.

            My depression is not as serious as his was, if you can measure such a thing that way, but I thought Robin Williams had it under control. I never expected his demons would win.

            If there’s any comfort at all we can take in this, it’s that Robin Williams left the world with a body of work that, if put together, could make us all laugh for years on end. And here’s the irony: Humor is one of my anti-depression techniques. It works, again ironically, better for the consumer than for the artist.

            “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can charge the world.”

            I have no advice here at the end, except perhaps to appreciate what he left and what you have, while you have it. Honestly, I’m still processing. Processing, and hoping that in death, Robin Williams found peace.

            “Seize the day, boys; make your lives extraordinary.”
He made his life extraordinary.


  1. I think that's why it hit me as hard as it did- I can relate to the depression.

    1. Yes, indeed ... just about anyone who does humor can, I think.

  2. There are times my stories are funny, but not the madcap funny and never will be. That is probably because depression is not something I personally know. In fact, I'm just the opposite. I was only about three when I felt the love of the Lord all around me and went skipping down the sidewalk. Mother was furiously pounding at the window to keep me from going into the barnyard. Oh, bother, but that joy has never left; not even in the darkest of times. I pray both you and William continue to win your battle.

    1. Hm ... I went for "madcap funny" in "The Notorious Ian Grant". Come to think of it, I wrote it during winter ....

  3. I'm struck by the fact that someone who had so much to live for, so much to give and so many who loved him, somehow thought he had nothing to live for. He'll live on in a lot of hearts, most of whom he never knew.

    1. It's something I've thought a lot about too. But it also seems to be pandemic in Hollywood: People who have it all ruining their careers and lives with alcohol, drugs, and general insanity. I have to wonder if part of that is the tendency of creative people to get depressed.

  4. I understand that his new meds causes depression. Heap that onto mental illness, Parkinsons Disease, and severe depression. It hit many of us hard. We loved that man and his humor and people could feel his love back.
    Severe depression seems to go hand-in-hand with high creativity. Somehow, it never seems to balance out.

    1. You know, my wife and I both suffer from occasional depression ... and are both creative types.

  5. Thankfully I've never suffered from this debilitating disease which plagued my mum throughout her life. Clearly breaking bones is nothing compared to what she, and others go through on a regular basis. At least bones heal.

    1. Even "mild" cases, which is what I have, are pretty rough to go through.